New season, new leaders

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:12 PM ET

EDMONTON - Expect a changing of the guard.

By the time the dust settles this off season, the Edmonton Oilers should be much different looking hockey club then the one that finished last for the first time in franchise history.

Practically every semblance of the team that went to the Stanley Cup final in 2006 will be gone and a new leadership group is expected to be in place.

It will be time for those who were rookies just three seasons ago to take over and try to lead the team out of the wilderness.

“Definitely, it’s got to be the time now,” said Oilers centre Sam Gagner.

“It’s my third year and the team’s fourth year out of the playoffs. It’s not acceptable. You play hockey to be a playoff team. If we’re going to move forward, there’s got to be a core leadership in here to step up and take the reins. I think we’re all excited about the future to move forward and be a better team.”

It’s obvious the ingredients this season did not mix.

There was not enough accountability from the veterans, and some would argue, too much responsibility placed on the youth.

Injuries proved to be a factor, but when the veterans needed to step up they didn’t and when the onus fell on the younger players they couldn’t. Not early on anyway.

“It was pretty disappointing,” said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. “For us, the biggest positive was the way we finished and how we tried to salvage some of the season. There were some stretches that were pretty terrible for us, but in the last handful of games, I thought we played pretty well. That, hopefully, we can take into next year.

“There are a lot of positives that you can see coming into this team. We’re going to get a high draft pick, younger guys that have been playing great. I don’t know if they’ll be able to step in right away, but they’ll be able to give us a bit more life. There’s only up to go when you finish in 30th place.”

This summer’s veteran purge is expected to begin with defenceman Sheldon Souray, who’s gone public stating that he wants out of town despite having two years left on his contract.

Ethan Moreau’s future with the team is in doubt even though the Oilers captain has one year left in his deal.

Fernando Pisani’s contract is us up. He was never able to regain the form that saw him the toast of the town during the Stanley Cup run, due largely in part to his battles with ulcerative colitis.

The makeup of the dressing room is expected to change.

“It was such a quiet room,” said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. “I remember the first exhibition game, I didn’t hear a peep out of the room and wondered what was the matter. Every team has chirpers that talk to get themselves ready. But there’s a dim, there’s a noise, there’s an excitement because we were going to play the game and we didn’t have a lot of that in here.

“Our young guys would stay quiet and, I don’t know, maybe that’s because they were intimidated by the presence of older guys. That goes back to my day, the older guys would hammer you if you spoke up too soon.”

Regardless, there will be a shift next season. Towards the end of the year, there were signs of it as Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert were given more responsibility.

Gagner finished as the team’s second-leading scorer, while Gilbert blossomed playing on the top defensive pairing after the trade deadline.

“To me it’s just more challenging, playing against the top lines on every team,” Gilbert said. “That’s why you play this game, to me it’s fun, you’re on the ice more so you get more into the game.

“This is my third full year that I’m finishing and I’m getting more and more comfortable playing against those calibre of players. It’s just more and more comfortable for me, and my confidence going up against them is great. And I’d love to go up against them for the rest of my career.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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